Vietnam, the Democrats and foreign policy–II

A few days ago I questioned whether the conventional wisdom that opposition to the Vietnam War destroyed Democratic credibility on national security is true. A reader helpfully sent in this graph from The Truman Project, which sets forth running averages on poll results from 1967 to the present. If this snapshot is to be believed, then 1967 seems to be something of a watershed: party divergence did begin at that time.

But these results are interesting because they could just as easily demonstrate the opposite conclusion of the conventional wisdom. Although the antiwar movement was in place in 1967, it was still on the fringe. But perhaps the Democrats began to be distrusted precisely because they had gotten us embroiled in Vietnam. Vietnam was, in Bob Dole’s infamous phrase, a “Democrat war.” Nixon ran as the peace candidate in 1968, while Humphrey was supporting Johnson’s policies.

There are other issues:

1) The Truman Project’s polling data starts in 1967; without anything previous to it, it’s hard to assess.

2) We don’t have any internals from these polls: who was moving when, in response to which events?

3) From 1967-1972, it isn’t really a partisan index: it’s a question about different candidates’ ability to handle Vietnam. Given the sharp differences between Humphrey, Muskie and McGovern on the Democratic side, you can imagine how this could distort findings. (This isn’t a criticism of the Truman Project: they are trying to make a general policy about the current partisan difference, not its origins).

So this data is suggestive, but susceptible to widely different interpretations. Is there anything else? In the words of the Dear Leader: bring it on.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.